Colossus Wake, D&D adventure review

By Colin Le Seur
By Odins Beard
Level 3

The last bastion of light and hope in a mist-covered accursed land, the Occluded Valley is threatened by an ancient colossus. Can a stalwart group of adventurers traverse the divided valley and scale the Colossus before it leaves annihilation in its wake?

This 116 page adventure has the party travelling a valley to gather the components for a ritual to stop a giant marauding colossus. It uses its page count well, using the space to provide clarity to the content. A decent enough format combines with passable descriptions to produce chapter two of an ongoing 5e adventure path … that doesn’t suck. 

Another place another train another bottle in the brain another girl another fight another drive all night!

So, you’re in this pseudo-ravenloft setting with an evil vampire chick in the background. You come to this mostly peaceful valley only to find a giant mountain in the distance suddenly get up and start walking towards the only town. Druid chick tells you that you got ten days till it reaches it, and to stop it you have to do the blahblahblah ritual on top of it … and to do THAT you have to gather the four keys to time, or black ravens, or whatever. Then with the power of HEART you’ll … oh, no, that’s Captain Planet. Anyway, run around the valley collecting stuff (the valley conveniently has just about the exact number of locations in it as major components …) and do your Shadow of Colossus-type climb to stop the thing … hopefully BEFORE it destroys the town … and then the druids lair: the Rock Needle.

You see, the valley is protecting from vampires chicks evil getting in by the eastern and western beacons, the western one being the druid chicks stone needle. The eastern one went dead last year and now evil is creeping in. Oh, and the elves in the valley are wild ones. And no ones heard from the dwarves in their (23 room dungeon) fortress for awhile. 

Up front: the design here is pretty good. The page count is long but that’s mostly because of the good use of white space and organizing the text. There is a decent number of page cross-references. NPC descriptions are short and well done, like a smith “stooped over, toughened skin pocked with old scars. Wheezes when he talks.” Good things you can hang your hat on to run. There’s an EXCELLENT timeline sidebar with travel times and so on, as well as a time tracker, to help the DM run the thing. There’s no right path, although there is an expected path. There’s a nice little section on consequences to the parties actions at the end. This is a good adventure. So, of course, I’m going to ignore all of the good things and nitpick it to death. Because if it’s one thing I know, maybe I’m just like my mother … Actually, no, it’s not that she’s never satisfied. I’m estranged because of her religious beliefs. But, anyway, the point is, there are at least three people writing good 5e adventures: this dude, MT Black, and Kelsey Dionne. But, anyway, back to my other point: if it’s not the best Deep Fried Deviled Egg you’ve ever had in your life (Boone’s Tavern, Berea) then what’s the point? Quick! To the Unrealistic Expectations-mobile!

I’m a dick: Sit locations A & B are missing from the valley map. Yu can figure it out. I don’t want to figure it out; I want it on the map.

The wanderers are pretty decent. “Ettin sleeping around a campfire; one of the heads is awake.” or “Ogre zombie bursts from a ruined cottage.” These are certainly better than the usual dreck one would expect in an adventure. I feel, like, though, that there could be just two or three more words. Perhaps its the implied “and attacks!” aspect, or, more specifically, the lack of motivation/action/potential energy in the encounters. I know, I know “bursts form ruined cottage” sounds like action. But I think it could be better. Another encounter has a dying hill giant swarmed by undead … and I think it needs something like “with blah blah blah wisdom” or something. They need just a little extra OOMPH. An extra descriptor, an extra action. Just a little more. “A green hag lures you in to the darkness with whispers.” You’re almost there man! You’re almost over the next hurdle!

The setting is a mixed bag. Up front we get a one page intro to the realm and the major players … none of whom, not even the general realm, appear in this adventure. (It is, after all, a protected vale.) There is an oblique reference to The Evil One by the Evil High Priest, and the Elf Queen chick might mention a wizard to you. And, of course, the humans fled in to the vale to get away from Evil Vampire Chick. I’m doing the setting a disservice by the flippant comparisons to Ravenloft, but “Evil vampire in charge of everything” has precedent. The setting is ALMOST good. And by Good I mean “REALLY good.” Things are hinted at. There’s just the barest glimpse of a larger world. Generally, this is good, but I think that the adventure needs a little more. Maybe there’s a setting guide I’m unaware of? The villagers could use a little more “fled from the evil queen” in them, their rumors and stories. The larger evil could use a little bump, maybe. And there’s NOTHING about the world outside the vale except for “under control of evil chick.” A little more. Just a little more. Another page. A few more rumors, and the setting would on the way to a home run. 

The party is on a timer. The timer mechanic is well laid out. How long travel takes. How long the various adventure sites can take. How long a long rest takes. There is, however, one thing missing, I think. The party knows the monster is on its way but they don’t really know how much time they have. Or how long travel takes. This is, I think, a rather large mistake. Without knowing how long they have, or how long things take, they are left, I think, with throwing their hands up in the air. Timers work better when people know they have one and can make decisions around expiring the timer. Do we long rest or not? Do we take the morally problematic expedient route or the longer harder one? The work around this aspect could be better.

The format, for its worth, falls down in place. The read-alou/dsummary might mention, for example, a sheltered pond and charred remains … only to have the text mention a shimmering pool and burned remains. When using the bold/follow-up mechanism it is, I think, critical to keep the words consistent. It’s a cross-reference and that works better when the words don’t change, cognitavilly, at least.

Finally, the text can be disconnected in places. A prime example of this is the first collectible: the Earthen Willstone. The text just suddenly, out of nowhere, mentioned it, as a major section heading, with a couple of bullets on it. Then, elsewhere, there is a table listing the collectibles, with the WIllstone mentioned. There is a place for telling the story through the text, instead of in summaries, background, etc, but care must be taken to ensure that random fats don’t just pop up in the middle of nowhere. This is a common issue in the adventure.

Finally, I mentioned again the evocative text. And/or lack thereof. The text descriptions, while not exactly bland, do skew to the more nondescript side of the spectrum. Evocative writing is hard, and the designers efforts are not yet up to High Brycian standards.

This is $11 ast DriveThru. The preview is thirty pages(!). In fact, the first two pages show the example of the Earthen WIllstone that I mentioned. These first two pages are an excellent preview of the adventure. They show the read-aloud, the format, with all the good and ill to its style, including the “timer” column. GREAT preview.

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4 Responses to Colossus Wake, D&D adventure review

  1. Laken Treehugger says:

    I nominate Joseph Robert Lewis (aka, Dungeon Age Adventures) as another 5e designer who does not suck.

    Five of his adventures are on “The Best” list, including Ragged Hollow Nightmare, Acid Metal Howl, and most recently, Kraken Corpse Delve.

    I think he deserves attention as the writer and illustrator, and for having 5e and OSR versions of all his adventures.

    • Reason says:

      Good catch on this author Laken. A good range of styles in his adventures too. He’s doing a lot right, you can see from his previews the things are usable & the ideas strong.

      An example of how clearly presented/easy to grok they are is I can look at his Acid Metal Howl & straight away see how I can use it with just say 3 minor substitutions as a “ruined vault” place in a Post Apocalyptic (Mad Maxish with ASE1 flourishes) campaign…

      Basically that means I got the gist of the thing & drives/personality of the inhabitants so strongly you can riff ideas off it straight away… As opposed to something your looking at, forcing yourself through just trying to piece it together or you find yourself looking for ways to fix it /salvage some of it, instead of “use it”.

  2. OttO says:

    “care must be taken to ensure that random fats don’t just pop up in the middle of nowhere”

    No need to bodyshame.

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    116 pages!

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